Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pleasure Vs Happiness - Is Discomfort The Key?

So a while ago at meditation we discussed happiness on a few different levels.  Like, what is happiness?  How does it differ from pleasure and enjoyment?  What makes us happy?  Should we pursue happiness and if so, how do we do that?

These are obviously pretty involved questions and they have been ruminating in my mind for a few weeks now.  But last night I had a dream.  It had Beyoncé in it.  Don't ask.

What this dream left me with when I awoke (or at least when my daughter crawled into bed and woke me up) was a really strong sense that discomfort equals happiness.  No that's not quite right, because discomfort is not the same as happiness, obviously.  Rather discomfort leads to happiness.

I've been thinking a lot about the notion of discomfort, and as I discovered on my last meditation retreat it's a wonderful thing to be able to sit with discomfort, to not fight or flea it, but to really get in it and walk around a bit.

And obviously my subconscious has been processing all this too because this morning I see quite clearly that we need discomfort to create happiness.  I think I understand now that we can't find true happiness without it.

Which leads back to the question what is happiness?

In the time and space in which I live (2013, affluent West) the pervading  equation we are sold is:

happiness = comfort  seek comfort.   

And of course this is a great message to sell, because selling this message sells product.  Billions and billions of dollars worth of product worldwide.  Because, if we think about it every product that we buy is sold to us to ease our discomfort, to make our lives easier and therefore better.

We are all sort of blindly led to believe that if we have all the things we will have all the happiness.  And while mostly we know that this is not really true, it is amazing how pervasive this message is and how easily we fall for it.  I guess that's because it is the path of least resistance, to a degree.  

But having all the stuff does not lead to happiness.  And here's where an important distinction needs to be made.  Pleasure is not happiness.  Pleasure and enjoyment are good and positive feelings to have, but they are not happiness.  And pursuing pleasure and enjoyment can actually erode happiness and leave it further beyond my grasp than I thought possible.

Is it possible to have a life full of pleasure and enjoyment and yet not be happy?  My answer would be Yes.  Why?  Because pleasure and enjoyment are fleeting, are transitory, are not made to last, by their very nature.  

Happiness on the other hand is the baseline beneath pleasure and it is where the truest expressions of ourselves reside.  Spend too much time seeking the pleasure of the high notes, and that space beneath becomes an empty cavern.  So that when the pleasure recedes, instead of a calm, consistent contentment there is emptiness and fear.  

And if I can't sit with discomfort, if I run from anything that is unpleasant then I run from that emptiness, I flea the fear and I return to the grasping of pleasure.

But if I can be uncomfortable I can see that when pleasure ends that place, that space is where my true happiness can live and thrive.  If I let it.

Not only this.  Not just giving up a constant grasping for pleasure, comfort and enjoyment but actually a courting of discomfort.  This, I am beginning to see is the path to true, expansive happiness.  

I need to allow myself to not only be uncomfortable when discomfort arises, but to actually seek out discomfort.  I need to get off the path of least resistance that is being force fed to me and start choosing to be uncomfortable.  Start choosing to do things that seem hard, or scary or even unpleasant. 

In my life this doesn't mean complete deprivation or punishing self-flagellation.  It doesn't mean running away to Japan to become a Marathon Monk (although? wow!).  What this means is pushing myself, pushing my boundaries, embracing fear.  I've always known this to be true, but somehow forgot along the way.

Because it is challenging myself and getting uncomfortable that will force me to grow.  And in facing these fears, in pushing these boundaries?  That is where I will find happiness.

What does happiness mean to you?

Listen to Powderfinger My Happiness

Image Licensed Under Creative Commons


  1. I think my happiness comes more from living in the moment and not worrying so much about the future. Enjoying life as it unfolds instead of trying to force my life to happen in a certain way. And I certainly agree with you - pleasure, either from experience or things or whatever, is only transitory. Happiness is much harder to achieve, but I truly believe we can all find our own type of happiness.

    Nice post! :)

    1. John James! Never thought I'd see you commenting on my blog ;) Glad you did though.

      And I do agree in regards to living in the moment. This is totally compatible with getting okay with discomfort, because it means reacting more mindfully to what each moment presents to us - if it is pleasurable then being mindful not to be too grasping about it and if it is uncomfortable not being to averse to it.

      Really great to see you here - thanks for the comment!

    2. " being mindful not to be too grasping about it and if it is uncomfortable not being to averse to it."

      That's exactly what I think... I learnt that from doing the Myers-Briggs personality test suggested by Kelly Exeter a couple of weeks ago... my personality type is best suited to the freedom of living in the moment... since realising that, I've stopped trying to work against that and have accepted that I work best in the moment... seems like you're going on a similar journey of self-discovery at the moment...

    3. Yes, it's something I've been working with for a long time but have to keep returning to. Obviously I'm a slow learner! In truth I also feel like the world we inhabit is really counter to this, so it takes extra effort to swim against the tide.

  2. Yes I think in so many ways we are removing ourselves from life - the more comfort we have, the more fences we build, the more fear we create and so on. Instead of striving to 'be happy', we just need to 'be'.

    1. Nailed it. Yep. Barriers and fear - becoming more open. These are the big ones for me right now.

      Thanks so much for the comment. Really appreciate seeing you here!